What is a PDQ Machine?

Hairdresser Card Terminal

What is a PDQ Machine?

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If you want to take card payments in your business, you’ll need a PDQ machine.

But what exactly is a PDQ machine?

A PDQ is just another name for a card machine It offers a safe and quick way to accept card payments from your customers. Find out more about their benefits, how they work, and which type of PDQ machine is right for your business with our guide.

What does PDQ stand for?

PDQ stands for ‘Process Data Quickly’. It was the original name used for card machines way back when they were first introduced to the UK, and it’s still a name some people use for them today.

In fact, PDQ machine is actually an umbrella term used for describing any device that can take credit or debit card payments. Card machines, card readers, and Chip and PIN machines are all classed as PDQ machines because they have the same purpose: to process card payments.

However, the PDQ machines of yesteryear worked quite differently to how they do today. In fact, they didn’t really live up to their original name at all.

How did the first PDQ machines work?

The first PDQ machines required customers to swipe their credit or debit card through it in order to take a payment. The machine then printed out a receipt, which the customer would have to sign to authorise the payment.

Staff would then need to check the signature to the one that’s on the back of their card to make sure that they matched. It was a very long-winded process and not safe at all! It meant that if a customer’s card had been lost or stolen, the thief would just need to perfect the signature on the back of the card to commit fraud.

Thankfully, PDQ machines have come a long way since then.

How do PDQ machines work now?

Old PDQ machines could be easily used for card payment fraud, so banks launched a new technology in 2006 to help combat this: Chip and PIN.

Chip and PIN works by having your customer insert their debit or credit card into the card machine. But instead of providing a signature, they type in a 4-digit PIN code. This PIN should be unique and secret to them.

Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of exactly what happens:

  1. Your customer pops their credit or debit card into your PDQ machine and it will ask them to enter their PIN. Or, for lower-cost purchases, they may tap their card against the PDQ terminal for a contactless payment which doesn’t require a PIN code.
  2. If the PIN is correct, your customer's card provider will be sent a request for approval to ensure the funds are available in their bank account.
  3. Once approved, the funds will be taken from the customer's account and deposited into your merchant account.
  4. The funds will then be settled into your business bank account (the number of days this will take will depend on your provider).

Chip and PIN is considered a quicker and much more secure way to pay, and since it was introduced, annual counterfeit card fraud losses dropped by £81.9 million between 2004 and 2014.

Learn more about the card payment security measures that help to make card transactions more secure with our guide.

What are the different types of PDQ machines?

PDQ machines have evolved over the years and there are a few main types, each with slightly different features and functions designed to suit various businesses.

  • The countertop machine – Countertop machines are one of the most common types of PDQ, usually found at brick-and-mortar stores with a fixed till point – for example, supermarkets, clothing stores, and hairdressers. Countertop PDQ machines need to be physically connected to a POS system.
  • The portable machine – These are similar to countertop PDQ machines, except they use Bluetooth or Wi-Fi to wirelessly transmit data to a base device. This means they aren’t fixed to a till point and can accept payments from around a shop floor, usually with a range of up to 100 metres – perfect for places like restaurants.
  • The mobile machine – Mobile machines are an upgraded version of the portable PDQ machine and can process card payments using Wi-Fi or mobile data, such as 3G, 4G, or 5G. This means that they’re not limited to a specific Wi-Fi range and can take card payments whilst out on the road. These are ideal for merchants who travel, like food truck businesses or taxi drivers.
  • The touchscreen card machine - The latest version of a PDQ, our takepaymentsplus touchscreen machine has all the benefits of a mobile PDQ, but has been upgraded with a super sleek look! Complete with an intuitive interface and the ability to see live reporting straight from the device, the takepaymentsplus makes accepting card payments and keeping on top of business even easier than ever.

Which payment methods are accepted by a PDQ terminal?

The beauty of PDQ machines is that they’re made to accept a range of card payments, meaning your business can stay up-to-date with the latest methods on the market.

PDQ terminals are compatible with:

Chip and PIN

After their first iteration, PDQ machines were primarily made to handle Chip and PIN payments, which became one of the most popular payment methods thanks to their safe and easy-to-use design. Therefore, PDQs are more than capable of handling everyday Chip and PIN requests.


Contactless payments have boomed in recent years. We collected data from takepayments card machines and point of sale systems throughout 2022, and found that contactless was used in 9 out of 10 transactions when looking at the total number of contactless and Chip and PIN payments.

To deal with this rising popularity, PDQ machines have evolved to seamlessly handle contactless card transactions.

Here at takepayments, all of our PDQs are set up to take contactless payments, so your customer can also tap and go for smaller amounts up to £100.

Mobile payments

PDQ terminals can also handle even newer electronic payment methods, like mobile payment using Apple or Google Pay. Mobile payments don’t require a plastic card and can be initiated simply by using a smart mobile device.

Even more convenient than the traditional contactless method, mobile payments are used by 25.7% of people worldwide.

What are the benefits of using a PDQ machine?

No matter what you want to call them, a PDQ machine is an essential device that business owners should consider.

If you don’t take cards already, you’ll benefit from:

  • Safer payments – At their core, PDQ machines process card payments using bank authorisation. This process is reinforced through security measures like your customers entering a PIN code to validate the transaction.
  • More ways to take payments – As a business, you’ll be able to accept a wider range of payments, not just cash. This can help encourage customers to spend with you instead of your competitors who may not have made the switch.
  • Quicker payments – PDQ terminals open the door for businesses to accept contactless and mobile payments. These can be completed in a matter of seconds, helping your staff to speed up transactions and keep queues down.
  • Increased customer satisfaction – The Bank of England released a report showing how the use of cash has been declining by 15% each year since 2017. The takeaway? More and more customers are opting to pay via cashless methods, so by accepting cards, you're opening your business up to more potential customers.
  • Reduced cash handling – Less cash to handle means your staff can save time by not having to count up the day’s takings at the end of their shift. As well as being more hygienic, it also means that you don't need to keep big wads of cash on your premises – cutting out the job of manually depositing it into the bank and potentially deterring theft too. Discover more benefits of going cashless here.
  • More efficient transactions – Many businesses rely on being remote to sell to their customers, so having a mobile PDQ terminal that can be used wirelessly can transform the way they operate. Even for places like restaurants and cafés, being able to process payments tableside can boost your customer’s overall experience.

Choosing a PDQ machine with takepayments

interested in investing in a PDQ machine or upgrading your existing one? We make it easy to get started.

We’ve got a team of local payment consultants who can come out and meet you to learn more about your business. They’ll then create a personalised pricing package around your business to best suit your needs. Plus, there are no set-up fees to join!

We also understand the need to be flexible. That’s why we offer short 12-month contracts.

Fill in our short form today for a free quote, or give us a call on 08082 393254.


Jodie Wilkinson

Head of Strategic Partnerships

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